US President Barack Obama will sketch out his vision of democracy today (16 November) at a time of mounting global populism, seeking to soothe European allies anxious over a Donald Trump presidency.
On the second day of a European farewell tour, Obama will build on a topic he outlined on Tuesday (15 November) — the “frustration and anger” of an electorate that feels it has been left behind by rapid globalisation.
“The lesson I draw — and I think people can draw a lot of lessons but maybe one that cuts across countries — is we have to deal with issues like inequality,” said Obama.
The 55-year-old Obama has chosen the “cradle of democracy” Greece to deliver a speech addressing the uncertainties that have led to the rise of populists like Trump.
Trump was able to tap into “a suspicion of globalisation, a desire to rein in its excesses, a suspicion of elites and governing institutions,” Obama noted.
Obama’s visit to Europe — his last foreign trip as American leader — has been all about reassuring traditional allies worried about Trump’s campaign rhetoric.
Trump welcomed Britain’s shock vote in June to leave the European Union and has cast doubts on the NATO alliance that has guaranteed relative peace on the continent for decades.
However, Obama was at pains to stress that Europe — and NATO — would remain the cornerstone of US foreign policy.
The US-led NATO grouping is “absolutely vital” to US interests and a strong, unified Europe was good for America and the world, Obama said in comments aimed at reassuring old partners.
“Across Democratic and Republican administrations there is a recognition that the NATO alliance is absolutely vital,” he said. “We know what happens when Europeans start dividing themselves up… the 20th century was a bloodbath,” he said pointedly.
It’s not clear what Trump’s foreign policy will look like. The reality TV star with no apparent fixed ideology or governing experience has issued promises chiefly for their popularity with his base.
Trump has questioned the relevance of some of America’s paramount alliances, starting with NATO; put the Paris climate-change accord in doubt by calling global warming “a hoax,” and sharply criticized the strenuously negotiated pact that Washington and five other countries signed with Iran to curb its nuclear program.
Trump’s attitude toward Russian President Vladimir Putin — the New York mogul called him “a leader, far more than our president has been a leader” — is deeply concerning in Europe, particularly in small countries like the Baltic nations living in Russia’s shadow.
Still, with bombasts like the hardliner John Bolton – George W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations – on his shortlist for secretary of state, Washington appears poised to resume its burning of European alliances.
Trump has already rocked the Western security establishment by indicating US military support for NATO would depend on member countries’ payments to the defense organization, the cornerstone of global security since World War Two.
The outgoing Democratic president and his successor huddled one-on-one in the Oval Office on 11 November, for what Obama characterized as an “excellent conversation” and then put on a remarkably civil joint public appearance.
“It is important for all of us, regardless of party and regardless of political preferences, to now come together, work together, to deal with the many challenges that we face,” Obama said.